Following the 'Dutch Winters' exhibition, the Rijksmuseum
annex at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
now presents another characteristic aspect of the Netherlands, namely flowers, in the 'Dutch Flowers' exhibition from 6 April to 5 September 2011. Nine exuberant flower pieces from the museums collection that used to adorn the homes of the 17th-century economic elite are now in full bloom at the airport.
Now an everyday item, cut flowers were prized luxuries in the 17th century. Only the most affluent could afford to have them in their homes and gardens. Growing prosperity in the course of the 17th century, however, eventually caused flower gardens to become more popular. The garden was considered an extension of the home and vice versa, with garden bouquets often decorating the home.
Introduced from Asia around 1600, the anemone, crocus, hyacinth and tulip were immensely popular. The trade in flower bulbs, tulips in particular, proved a highly lucrative business. In around 1630, at the height of Tulip Mania, an exceptional tulip bulb could cost as much as an entire house on a canal.
The average citizen simply could not afford a bouquet for home. The first flower still-lives therefore appeared in the 1630s and 1640s as a means of meeting the demand for flowers. After all, a painting of a flower was much less expensive than an actual bouquet and lasted longer.
The flower still-lives were still in vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries when the rise of large-scale commercial bulb-growing transformed the Netherlands into the flower nation that it remains to this day.